Exclusive offer: 6/3/2022 – Island Hopping

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ISLAND HOPPING: Azores, Sardinia, and Sicily

Islands fascinate me. Minnesota writer Bill Holm wrote an entire book about them (a great read). My first trip out of the country decades ago was to the island of Cozumel. And I’m always on the lookout for a good deal on buying my own island ($2.5 million for one on Lake Minnetonka slipped through my fingers).

And I LOVE drinking wine from islands. Sometimes the impact of the surrounding ocean is very apparent in the wine, while for others (like the Mount Etna selections below) it’s all about volcanic soil. Thinking about the journey that wine took from vine to glass is the kind of thing that keeps me hooked on our favorite beverage.

This week: some of my favorite wines from islands.

Branco Vulcânico, Azores

If you don’t know off hand where the Azores are, you’re not alone. I had a rough idea that it was “out there” but a bit of research reminded me of just how far out there they are.

Owned and controlled by Portugal, the Azores were discovered in the 15th century during Portugal’s age of exploration. How cool would that have been, to be on a sailing ship having no idea what was out there in the world, then happening upon these tiny islands in the middle of nowhere? Visiting the Azores is surprisingly easy, with direct flights from Boston, NYC, and even Oakland.

Eventually, grape vines were brought to the island and a tiny industry began. All the vines are planted in volcanic basalt, and the vineyards are framed by the rocks removed to plant the vines which also helps to protect the vines from the wild weather coming off the ocean. Check it out!

As best as I can tell, this is the only wine available in Minnesota from the Azores. It’s comprised of 50% Arinto dos Açores and 50% Verdelho, grown at an elevation of zero (right at sea level) right next to the ocean (the photo is the vineyard this wine is from). It’s a micro-production wine, with only a handful of cases coming to Minnesota every year.

The purity and salinity of this wine is off the charts. From the winemaker: “Light straw with notes of green around the rim. On the nose, tropical but intensely maritime, with pineapple and passion fruit are interwoven with seaweed, wet stone, and sea spray. Salty and intensely mineral-driven on the palate, with a surprising depth of fruit that is balanced by the minerality and focused acidity through the middle.”

This is a lovely rarity to add to the wine shelf!

Learn more about the history and the wines of the Azores.

Surrau “Limizzani” Vermentino 2021
Surrau “Naracu” Cannonau 2020

These are brand new to Minnesota. You’re the first one to have an option on them. I’m always on the lookout for a great Vermentino and a great Cannonau, but I rarely find them from the same producer. It seems a winery can be good at making one or the other but very rarely both.

Here we hit the jackpot.

The Limizzani Vermentino is special stuff, for it comes from the Vermentino di Galleria DOCG, the top of the top region for the Vermentino grape and actually a region you rarely find in our market. Most Vermentino that you’ll come across is simply labeled “Wine of Sardinia” but this DOCG is special because it’s actually the only DOCG on the island. The wine is bright and dynamic, with aromas of white flowers, peaches, apples, and sea spray. A great Vermentino like this, paired with fish tacos or pan-seared walleye makes for a beautiful summertime dinner.

Cannonau is better known to the rest of the world as Grenache, but when it comes from Sardinia something special happens. As identified by author Dan Beutner, Sardinia is a “Blue Zone” where more people live to be 100 years old than almost anywhere else on earth, and this is attributed to the consumption of this grape. Cannonau (Grenache) from Sardinia has more natural anti-oxidants than any other wine. This particular one is ideal for summertime drinking: light to medium-bodied, sassy and spicy, with a clear core of red raspberry and spice cabinet aromas. I can’t think of a better wine to have with brats and burgers. Chill it down a touch and this will be your go-to red wine for summer.

Learn more about the wines of Sardinia.

Sallier de la Tour Inzolia 2020
Sallier de la Tour Grillo 2020

Welcome to our little white wine bargains from Sicily!

Sallier de la Tour is a winery owned and controlled by the amazing Tasca family of Tasca d’Almerita, one of the dominant fine wine producers of Sicily and for sure the family that does the most to keep the traditional grape varieties at the forefront of Sicilian wines. Starting in the 1980s and 90s, cheap land prices combined with worldwide demand for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot led to many historic vineyards being ripped out and replanted. It was families like the Tascas that helped preserve the history that we can enjoy in our glasses today.

Inzolia is fascinating: aromas that fall into a nutty-citrus-herbal spectrum along with medium body and medium acidity make this an amazingly versatile wine with a range of dishes. Steamed clams with brown butter come to mind, as does sushi or tuna poke. Recently I enjoyed this wine with a simple herbed salad, heavy on the dill, for the herbal qualities of the wine totally balanced with food.

Grillo also brings the herbal element to the glass but is framed with far more lemon-citric flavors. It’s a bit brighter in style, with high-toned aromatics of lemon zest, lilac, and ocean spray. If you love your glass of Sauvignon Blanc (and who doesn’t) but you’re looking for something just a little bit different, this is your wine.

Having both bottles open side-by-side makes for a fascinating comparison and a heck of a fun wine party. And at these prices, you can keep pulling corks without hesitation.

Note: this wine is due to take a big price increase when the next shipment arrives in the states. This is a bargain price on the offer that will not be possible after this.

New to the wines of Sicily? Here’s a great article to get you up to speed.


Tascante is the Tasca family’s project on Mount Etna, which is a special place indeed for growing grapes and making wine. The soil is, you guessed it, volcanic and nutrient-poor. The vines struggle, especially as you get into the higher elevations. Some of the soil is incredibly young, some quite old.

The main grape in all of these wines is Nerello Mascalese. As discussed on the WineSearcher website:

Nerello Mascalese is a highly regarded, dark-skinned grape variety that grows most commonly on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Its wines, which have had a rapid upsurge in popularity in the last decade, have a tendency to reflect their surroundings, giving taut, fresh red wines with fruity, herbaceous flavors, excellent minerality, and an earthy nuance. Nerello Mascalese wines often have a perfume reminiscent of those of the noble wines of Barolo and Burgundy.”

That last sentence is the key. Imagine some cross between top-grade Burgundy and top-grade Barolo, and you get the profile of Nerello Mascalese.

We have four gems from Tascante in this week’s offer. All are incredible, all are special, and all are a little bit different.

Mt. Etna. Photo from Tenzing Wine and Sprits Company, which has a great overview on the Mt. Etna DOC: http://www.tenzingws.com/blog/2017/1/12/the-red-hot-wines-from-mount-etna

Tascante “Ghiaia Nera” Etna Rosso DOC 2019

This is the entry-level Tascante and gives you a great example of what Nerello Mascalese from young vines and the black volcanic soil is all about. The name means “Black Gravel” and the vineyards are at about 600m elevation on Mt. Etna.

Aromas of orange peel, cherries, and dried flowers follow through to a medium body, fine tannins, and a refined, subtle finish. The balance in this wine is exceptional, and for those that are new to Mt. Etna or the Nerello Mascalese grape, this is the perfect “welcome to Etna” wine.


These are the single-site rarities of Tascante. A “Contrada” is a local word for a hamlet or district. There are 132 of them in the Etna wine region, and each has its own set of distinguishing factors based on elevation, soil structure, sun exposure, and lava age. Think of these as the Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards of the region.

Minnesota only received 40 bottles of each of these wines. They are cellar-worthy gems that will bring a ton of satisfaction anytime in the next ten years. The whole “Burgundy meets Barolo” analogy discussed earlier plays out in spades in these wines.

Tascante Contrada “Pianodario” Etna Rosso DOC 2016

Last lava flow was 1881. The coolest vineyard in the collection. 100% Nerello Mascalese, fermented in stainless steel tanks; aged for 12 months in 25hl Slavonian oak barrels.

94 Points from Decanter Magazine (which is notoriously fickle): “Pianodario is the coolest and highest of the three vineyards, at 800m above sea level. Terraced with dry stone walls to enable farming on the steeply sloping terrain, the soils are shallower here and rich in minerals consisting of volcanic sands, small- to medium-sized rocks, and pumice. The average temperature is 3 ̊C lower than in the Rampante vineyard, and the wine is marked by higher acidity and tannins – a marked austerity. Vinified in the same way as Rampante, with 12 months in Slavonian oak, this is fresh, cool, aromatic and tightly mineral, displaying characteristics of rose petal and redcurrant. Fantastic length and power.”

94 Points from James Suckling: “Plenty of smoke, pumice, cedar, pine cones and cigar box on this one, not to mention dried strawberries and red licorice. Then come hints of treacle tart and fudge. Lots of mineral drive on the palate, which is wrapped up neatly in fine tannins. Medium-bodied and quite long on the finish.”

93 Points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: “One of three new single- vineyard wines introduced by Tasca’s Tascante, the 2016 Etna Rosso Contrada Pianodario comes from the western-most parcel located between Montelaguardia and Randazzo. These are relatively new vines, planted in 2010, in soils representing various lava flows, the oldest in 1646 and the newest in 1981. This is a bright and accessible wine with pretty tones of wild berry and dried pomegranate followed by candied orange and pressed violets. It will no doubt be exciting to follow this wine as those vines get, proverbially speaking, older and wiser.”

Tascante Contrada “Rampante” Etna Rosso DOC 2016

Soil is on relatively new, 200-yr-old lava flow that has turned into thick gravel, and clay. 100% Nerello Mascalese, fermented in stainless steel tanks; aged for 12 months in 25hl Slavonian oak barrels.

94 Points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: “Made with vines planted at the dawn of the new millennium, the 2016 Etna Rosso Contrada Rampante comes from one of the best-performing parcels on the northern side of the volcano, where the topsoil (consisting of eroded volcanic stone and compacted ash) is a bit thicker and deeper compared to most other sites on the volcano. This allows for deep root systems and well-draining moisture. This wine shows a dark and compact nature with ripe fruit, dried blackberry, aniseed and camphor. Like the other wines in this series, this expression ages in 25-hectoliter Slavonian oak casks for 12 months.”

96 Points Wine Enthusiast: “Intense and linear, this vibrant red has intriguing aromas of wild red berry, violet, dark spice, crushed stone and eucalyptus. On the lithe, racy palate, polished tannins and lively acidity frame crunchy red cherry, strawberry compote, orange zest and licorice before a saline finish.”

92 Points Decanter Magazine: “Usually the first to be picked, Rampante is the estate’s lowest and warmest vineyard, planted in 2000 close to Passopisciaro village. The vineyard encompasses two different soil formations, defined by volcanic sands and chunks of basalt, with large rocky outcrops. Reflecting the vineyard’s lower altitude and slightly warmer microclimate, this is the most approachable of the [single-vineyard] reds in the Tascante range, rounder and riper with a warm red fruit nose. Make no mistake though, you’ll still find the freshness, delicacy and complexity of the Tascante lineup here, along with a rose-petal perfume.”

Tascante Contrada “Sciaranuova” Etna Rosso DOC 2016

Planted in 2008; 4.9 hectares of vines. Sandy soils. 8.5% slope; Volcanic origins between ages of 40,000 and 4,000 years; More than 7 ha of chestnut groves; 100% Nerello Mascalese fermented in stainless steel tanks; 70% aged in 25hl Slavonian oak barrels and 30% in 300 L French oak barrels for 12 months.

92 Points Decanter: “Sciaranuova was planted in 2008 on deep, layered soils featuring volcanic sands, basalt and pumice, giving the most structured and ageworthy wines of the three vineyard sites. The winemaking here is slightly different: 70% of the wine is aged in 25hl Slavonian oak barrels, with the remaining 30% ageing in 300-litre French oak barrels. Expect the same minerality, crisp acidity and fragrance, with a generosity of elegant red fruits and spice. This has at least a decade ahead of it.”

94 Points Wine Enthusiast: “Rose, violet, red berry, Mediterranean scrub and eucalyptus aromas form the nose on this fragrant red. The elegant palate is still young and nervous, offering juicy raspberry, cherry, star anise and orange slice set against vibrant acidity and taut, refined tannins. A tangy mineral note and brown spice linger on the finish. It needs time to calm down a bit, but it will age beautifully.” 


The range of styles and prices in this week’s offer was intentional. We have wines that are in good quantity and price (Sallier de la Tour and Surrau), wines of rarity but overall affordability (Branco Volcanic), and some truly collectible gems (Tascante).

For drinking this summer on the patio or around the grill: stock up on the Inzolia, Grillo, Vermentino, and Cannonau. All four of them are awesome and unpretentious wines that will bring huge pleasure to any wine drinker. All four are great food wines but I’d also be happy simply enjoying them while sitting in the sun.

If you have wine geek friends that you want to impress: the Branco Vulcanico is the way to go. Wine from the Azores is such a rarity, and this is the kind of wine that makes wine geeks whip out their phones to find out what they are actually drinking. Plus, it’s just so damn good.

For the cellar, or for special dinners coming up: any of the wines from Tascante, but especially the single Contradas. Now in terms of the Contradas I’ll tell you the truth: they are all more similar than different in the end. They are all from the same grape variety, and they all ooze “Etna” in the aromas. If you really really really want to geek out, get a bottle of each and have your wine friends over. Read the professional reviews on the wines and go with your gut instinct on which to buy.

This offer has closed. Thank you for your interest.

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